An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba by Ruth Behar

By Ruth Behar

Yiddish-speaking Jews concept Cuba used to be purported to be an insignificant layover at the trip to the USA after they arrived within the island kingdom within the Nineteen Twenties. They even referred to as it “Hotel Cuba.” yet then the years handed, and the numerous Jews who got here there from Turkey, Poland, and war-torn Europe stayed in Cuba. The cherished island ceased to be a lodge, and Cuba finally grew to become “home.” yet after Fidel Castro got here to strength in 1959, the vast majority of the Jews hostile his communist regime and left in a mass exodus. even though they remade their lives within the usa, they mourned the lack of the Jewish neighborhood they'd outfitted at the island.

As a baby of 5, Ruth Behar was once stuck up within the Jewish exodus from Cuba. turning out to be up within the usa, she questioned concerning the Jews who stayed in the back of. Who have been they and why had they stayed? What strains have been left of the Jewish presence, of the cemeteries, synagogues, and Torahs? Who was once taking good care of this legacy? What Jewish stories had controlled to outlive the years of progressive atheism?

An Island referred to as Home is the tale of Behar’s trip again to the island to discover solutions to those questions. not like the unique photograph projected via the yank media, Behar uncovers a facet of Cuban Jews that's poignant and private. Her relocating vignettes of the participants she meets are coupled with the delicate images of Havana-based photographer Humberto Mayol, who traveled with her.

jointly, Behar’s poetic and compassionate prose and Mayol’s shadowy and riveting pictures create an unforgettable portrait of a group that many have visible although few have understood. This publication is the 1st to teach either the energy and the heartbreak that lie at the back of the venture of conserving alive the flame of Jewish reminiscence in Cuba.

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Inscriptions on the headstones are written in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Spanish. Tombs from the 1950s include photographs of the departed that could have been taken yesterday. I stop to marvel at how they have withstood tropical rainstorms and the blazing sun. But I despair. I’ve promised a picture to Moisés and Zoila in Miami, but I cannot find Henry. I see a rabbi’s grave, apart from the rest. qxd:Behar design 7/30/07 2:15 PM Page 43 Blessings for the Dead Machado. I see a Holocaust memorial, where the plaque declares that soap made out of Jewish flesh lies buried there.

Religious licenses became the easiest travel licenses for Americans to obtain, and Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish “missions” promptly appeared in Cuba. Bibles and the message of God’s bounty arrived together with donations of powdered milk and aspirin. Other American travelers also found reason to go to Cuba. Undergraduate students thought it was “cool” to study Spanish in Cuba, while graduate students in anthropology flocked to do fieldwork on the “hot” topics of prostitution and Santería. Journalists from mainstream and minor newspapers were soon covering Cuba more consistently and addressing not only the island’s troubles but its cultural and carnal charms.

Stanley Falkenstein, who has traveled to Cuba more than thirty times, bringing wheelchairs and eyeglasses, was able to articulate feelings shared by many other American Jews. As Falkenstein states in a 2005 open letter to the Jewish community of Cuba: “You have given me the best gift I have ever received in my life. ”27 American Jews who travel to Cuba are willing to put aside any doubts they might have about communism in Cuba and the continuing restrictions on freedom of speech. Jaime Suchlicki, a Cuban Jewish historian based in Miami, thinks American Jews are either naïve or engaging in a game of self-deception.

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